What is Probity in governance?

Probity originates from the Latin word ‘probitas’, meaning good. It is the quality of having strong moral principles and strictly following them. It includes principles such as – honesty, integrity, uprightness, transparency and incorruptibility. Probity is confirmed integrity. It is usually regarded as being incorruptible.

Probity in Governance is concerned with the propriety and character of various organs of the government as to whether these uphold procedural uprightness, regardless of the individuals manning these institutions. It involves adopting an ethical and transparent approach, allowing the process to withstand scrutiny.

The philosophical basis of probity

Western thought

  • Socrates: The country should be run by virtuous people, people who are knowledge seekers. 
  • Plato: Harmonious functioning –Part should work for the whole and the whole must benefit the parts. He discusses five types of regimes (republics). They are –
  • Aristocracy: Rule by a philosopher king
  • Timocracy: People fight for their honour; philosopher king has developed ego; right to wealth
  • Oligarchy: Timocracy disintegrated into oligarchy. 
  • Democracy: Different groups fighting for their own agenda.
  • Tyranny: Strong dictator reversing the process of democracy.

Plato argues that only an aristocracy led by the unwilling philosopher-kings (the wisest men), is a just form of government.

  • Aristotle: He laid the foundation of good governance. The one that is ruled is like the master of flutes and the ruler is the flute player who makes use of it.
  • St. Augustine: Just war theory
  • Machiavelli: He laid the foundation of Real Politic emphasising on ends justifying the means.
  • Thomas Hobbes: He gave the theory of social contract which resulted in a powerful ‘leviathan’ or state with all institutions secondary to it.
  • Bentham: He gave the theory of Qualitative Utilitarianism where governance should be focussed on the greatest benefits of the greatest number as a measure of good governance.
  • J. S. Mill: Qualitative utilitarianism

Max weber

Theory of domination

Ways of DominationLegitimacyApparatus required
Charismatic Domination  People believe in the rightness of Law which is enacted through uniform procedure.People accept the authority due to their faith in the exceptional qualities of the ruler.
Traditional  People believe in the goodness of the past and traditional ways of doing things.Personal retailers, servants, relatives
Legal – RationalPeople believe in the rightness of Law which are enacted through uniform procedure.Bureaucracy  

Features of bureaucracy

  • Hierarchy
  • Superior subordinate relations are there to maintain accountability and unity of command.
  • Rules and regulations
  • Merit-based system
  • Impersonal relationship
  • Unified control
  • Discipline – following rules and regulations, conformity, obedience.
  • Maintenance of proper official records.
  • Whole time employees
  • Mean orientation and
  • Complete de-humanisation.

Benefits of this system

  • Rational
  • Consistency in procedure
  • This leads to equal treatment
  • Merit-based system
  • Expertise
  • No overlapping or conflict
  • Better coordination
  • Accountability
  • Efficiency

Weber designed this system of bureaucracy for a capitalist society where –

  • People are equal, uniformity is there
  • The political executive is very strong
  • There is surplus capital

Max Weber himself observed

  • The power position of a fully developed bureaucracy is everywhere overpowering.
  • A fully developed bureaucracy is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy 

The fate of bureaucracy depends on three factors

  1. How social-economic power is distributed in society. If society is equal, then bureaucracy will have less power with it. If inequality exists, then the bureaucracy will draw benefits out of it. Marx has criticised bureaucracy in this regard only. Marx has said that bureaucracy has become a tool in the hands of rich people to control the majority. The role of bureaucracy is to convert the will of rich people into the will of the general people.
  2. Information distribution among people. Weber said secrecy is the tool developed by bureaucracy to maintain hegemony. Secrecy can be controlled by providing information to the people.
  3. How politicians use it.

Importance of Probity in Governance

  • Foremost, it helps build up the legitimacy of the system, i.e. the state. It builds trust in the institutions of the state and a belief that the actions of the state will be for the welfare of the beneficiaries.
  • It leads to prudent and ethical outcomes.
  • It leads to avoidance of sub-optimal outcomes, corruption and poor perception.
  • It provides for an objective and independent view of the fairness of the process
  • It helps in checking the abuse and misuse of power by various organs of government such as magistracy, police and all other providers of public service e.g. PWD, health, education, etc.
  • It is an essential requirement for an efficient and effective system of governance and socio-economic development.

Principles of Probity in Governance:

  • Integrity
  • Transparency
  • Objectivity
  • Accountability
  • Responsibility
  • Selflessness
  • Equity and inclusiveness
  • Participation
  • Rule of law
  • Justice
  • Non – Maleficence: Minimalist approach
  • Beneficence: Maximalist approach
  • Management of conflict of interests

Need of Probity in the Governance

  • It helps in preserving the confidence of the public in the government and enhances the public trust in the governance system of the country.
  • Probity helps in maintaining the integrity upright in the public service of the nation, which is the bedrock of the governance system.
  • It helps in avoiding the potential if any for misconduct and corruption and also helps in ensuring compliance with the processes and accountability in the governance system.


In this regard, the Scandinavian economist-sociologist, Gunnar Myrdal in his book ‘Asian Drama’, describes India as a ‘soft society’. It is a society where there is a:

  • Lack of will to enact laws necessary for progress and development
  • Lack of will to implement even the existing laws.
  • Lack of discipline at all levels – including the administration and structures of governance

Major challenges are:

  • Corruption
  • Opacity/ Discretion in the absence of transparency
  • The poor and ambiguous value system
  • No incentive/Ineffectiveness/Inefficiency/Lack of accountability
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